The football fans of Western New York are a resilient bunch if they follow the Buffalo Bills as there has been plenty of frustration and heartache. After winning consecutive American Football League Championships in 1964 and 1965, the Bills would join the National Football League in 1970 as a part of the merger of the two leagues. The Bills would make the playoff in 1974 primarily on the legs of running back O.J. Simpson who ran behind the offensive line that was dubbed as the “Electric Company” because they provided the juice. The early 1980’s would see the Bills make the playoffs twice under head coach Chuck Knox. But his “Ground Chuck” offense couldn’t hang with the big boys of the AFC in the postseason. The Bills would rebuild in the late 1980’s under general manager Bill Polian and head coach Marv Levy to become a dominant NFL team. From 1990-1993, the Bills would win four consecutive AFC Championships which is something that more than likely you will never see again. But each of those trips to the Super Bowl would see the Bills go home empty handed as their opponent would claim the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. But it was the Bills first trip to the Super Bowl that was the toughest pill to swallow for everyone that is associated with the franchise.
The Bills entered Super Bowl 25 as heavy favorites over the New York Giants. The Bills had defeated the Giants earlier that season and in the Super Bowl, Big Blue had to rely on a career backup at starting quarterback in Jeff Hostetler who replaced an injured Phil Simms who ironically was hurt versus Buffalo. The Bills were trailing 20-19 in the waning seconds of the game. Bills kicker Scott Norwood stepped onto the field with eight seconds left to attempt a 47-yard field goal which would have forever made him a hero or a goat in Western New York. Norwood’s kick sailed wide right and with it the Bills chances of being recognized as on of the best teams in NFL history. The next three years would see the Bills Super Bowl losses become worse as they would lose Super Bowls 26,27, and 28 by a combined total of 65 points. The Bills would go one to make the postseason four more times in the 1990’s and a tough loss to the Miami Dolphins in the 1998 NFL Playoffs was nothing compared to what would take place the following season.
The Bills had been turned around by quarterback Doug Flutie in 1998 and 1999. Flutie was signed to be a backup quarterback to Rob Johnson, but the sage veteran outplayed the pretty boy to take his job. In Week 17, Bills head coach Wade Phillips decided to rest Flutie and give Johnson a start with Buffalo already having clinched a playoff berth. Johnson performed well and per request of then Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Johnson was named the Bills starting quarterback heading in the playoffs which deflated the team. The Bills would lose in the AFC Wild Card Game to the Tennessee Titans on the “Music City Miracle” and in a cruel twist of fate they have not returned to the playoff since then.
In 2004, the Bills were 9-6 heading into Week 17 only needing to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home to advance to the playoffs, but they lost. The Bills finished this past season with a record of 9-7 for only their second winning season since 1999. In his second year as the Bills head coach, Doug Marrone appeared to be building a contender in the AFC. But since this past Sunday when the Bills defeated the New England Patriots, things have gone in the wrong direction for Buffalo.
During the season Marrone benched an ineffective EJ Manuel at starting quarterback for the Bills in favor of veteran Kyle Orton. Orton rallied the Bills and was 7-5 as a starter, but at 32-years old he decided to retire from the NFL. The Bills were then hit with a bombshell on New Year’s Eve when Marrone announced that he would opt-out of his current contract with the Bills in spite of the fact that he had two years left on his deal. The Bills wanted to bring Polian back to their front office, but at 72-years of age he is content with his job at ESPN as a football analyst. Now the Bills are set to embark on the off-season in search of a head coach and a quarterback.
Once Wilson died earlier this year, the Bills were put up for sale. Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula stepped to the forefront and purchased the team, but he and Marrone were never on the same page. And with Marrone seeking a contract extension not only for himself, but his assistant coaches as well, the writing was on the wall for the head coach to depart which is another dark day in Bills franchise history and a slap in the face to those fans that follow and support them.
The Bills have the current longest playoff drought in the National Football League and with rumors about the team potentially leaving Buffalo, the last thing that the fan base needs to endure is another coaching change while also starting over at quarterback. Since Levy retired in 1997, the Bills have employed seven different head coaches with none of them lasting four years with the organization. Jim Kelly played his last game as the Bills starting quarterback in 1996 and since then the Bills have used 14 different starting quarterbacks which tells the tale of this team’s struggles.
Like any other unsuccessful sports franchise, the Bills must strive for stability while finding that three headed monster of a general manager, head coach, and a starting quarterback that will all be on the same page. Marrone’s departure all but signals the end of Manuel’s time with the Bills. Marrone and the Bills surprisingly used a first-round pick on Manuel in the 2013 NFL Draft and he has been a project at best. And with a new administration set to come to Buffalo, Manuel should start searching for flights out of town. Along with the Bills, the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have all had consistent turnover at the general manager and head coaching positions which is why they have all been second-class citizens in the AFC East to the New England Patriots since 2001. But for the Bills they have simply turned into the ugly ducklings of the NFL that nobody wants to coach or lead.